Will you put your money where your mouth is?


Talk, they say, is cheap. But it’s not really, is it?

My Dad recently reminded me of a very expensive phone call I apparently placed to America (I have no memory of doing so). I don’t know who I was ringing, but Dad grabbed the receiver to hear the person at the other end of the line tell him he has ‘a very polite little boy’.

My Dad was not nearly so polite when the phone bill landed! Equally, nobody appears to have let on to Vodafone that talk is cheap, as they burn a monthly hole in my pocket. Talk is, in fact, often very expensive. Except, much like my phone call to America, we are frequently not the ones who pay for our cheap words.

Cheap for me…

Of course, ‘talk is cheap’ is about saying grand things and doing nothing about them. I can say I’ll do all sorts, but if I don’t actually make good on them, what has it really cost me? Talk is cheap for me. But the problem with my cheap words is that they might impact quite severely on you. Let’s just think about one example.

There has been a positive push to see more churches planted, revitalised and supported in recent years. You would be hard pressed to find people in the church who say anything other than that we want to see strong, gospel churches planted where there are currently none. But when so few put their money where their mouth is, it can appear to be a case of talk being cheap.

… costly for others

But that is not where the issue starts and ends. Sometimes people say big things on which they never deliver, but the impact of their doing nothing is negligible. Yet when we talk big about church planting, revitalisation and support, the consequences are very costly indeed. They may not cost us anything, but the impact is serious for others.

I am so tired of hearing about pastors and their families struggling to scratch out a living for their ministry. They spend their time worried about the very real possibility of losing their job because they can’t get the support. They think about whether they can become bi-vocational even though they know that any job they might pick up won’t cover the shortfall and will take them away from their ministry,

which loses further momentum. That is a heavy weight to bear. Just imagine going into work every day, for years, wondering whether your job will be there tomorrow?

Priorities

Other churches go under altogether, so we lose gospel witness in an area. They couldn’t support themselves because all of their people come from backgrounds where they have nothing to give. They may see the gospel take root in the lives of people in their communities, but they too are saved from deprived backgrounds and can’t help the church financially. Churches nearby, meanwhile, talk a good game about supporting such churches, and spend hours poring over whether to bung the struggling place down the road £500 – eventually deciding not to help – whilst, at the same meeting, sign off thousands of pounds to replace the meeting-hall carpets.

Talking a good game…

Worst of all, unbelievers engaged with the church suddenly lose their only access to gospel content. For those who can no longer encounter the life-saving gospel, the eternal consequences are far from cheap! So often we talk a good game, but the reality of actual support never comes.

When we say that we want to see the nation reached for Christ, do we really mean it? When we say we want to see churches planted, established and supported, what evidence is there that this is true? We need to put out money where our mouths are. All our talk might be cheap for us, but it carries a massive cost for others. For all our talk, the apostle John has some words for us: ‘Let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth’ (1 John 3:18).

Stephen Kneale

Stephen Kneale is the Minister of Oldham Bethel Church and he blogs at http://www.stephenkneale.com

Illustration: Jason Ramasami

Covid Vaccines: Foetal Questions


Covid vaccines developed using cell lines from an aborted baby raise vital ethical questions, the Christian Medical Fellowship says.

Most of the 100 potential vaccines being investigated across the world use a cell line derived originally from a child aborted in Holland in 1973. Known as HEK293, it has also been used in cancer research and in developing commonly accepted vaccinations such as rubella, hepatitis A and rabies. By contrast, a smaller number of possible Covid vaccines, including the one at Imperial College, London, are synthetically derived.

Poll responses

An online poll for Evangelicals Now reveals that 45% of respondents would take a vaccine derived from foetal cell lines ‘with some reservations’, 13% would definitely not, 21% said they would need more information before making a decision, and another 21% said they would take any Covid vaccine, full stop.

One Christian clinician who spoke to en anonymously said: ‘I use HEK293 cells in my research. If the foetal tissues hadn’t been used experimentally, they would have been disposed of. In general terms I don’t support … abortions. Much of the history of medicine is murky, and I feel at peace with using the HEK293 cell line in my research. I can see that much good can come out of [its] use.’

Nazi experiments

The UK’s Christian Medical Fellowship said: ‘This is a frequent ethical dilemma in medicine and other areas. Some physiological data is derived from experiments done by Nazi doctors on Jewish prisoners. There is a balance to strike here. Clearly, we should never be benefitting from something that results in direct harm to others – a transplant organ from a Chinese prisoner, or a manicure from a trafficked Vietnamese woman. In some situations the supply is clearly perpetuated by the demand. In other situations the connection is more distant, as with historic information gained from Nazi horrors (see above).

‘With vaccine production, if current vaccines are benefitting from contemporary abortions, if labs are receiving cells from abortion clinics today, then we must speak out and refuse to perpetuate this link. Paul’s question, “Shall we do evil, that good may result?” should still be answered with a resounding “No” in healthcare today. But if a cell line originally goes back to an abortion many years ago (the foetal cells used in developing the Oxford vaccine were derived from two abortions, one in 1970 and one in 1985), and there is no current link to abortion, it may be less ethically controversial.

‘Christians will differ on this matter, and it is up to individual conscience whether we accept a vaccine from a source, however old, that has ethical questions over it, or another that uses less controversial means. However we choose, there will be other ethical questions to ask of the institutions and methods used – the source of the funds to do the research, how the vaccine is being tested, as well as the ethical history of the institution.’

Analysis

Christians who disagree with abortion are divided over the use of the HEK293 cell line. Some opt for the greater good argument while some take the firm line that no-one should benefit from abortion. The former argument appears to diminish the value of the life of the unborn; the latter may put many at risk from the consequences of not taking a particular medication.

So what should Christians do? Avoid using anything connected to HEK293 even though that may cause unnecessary suffering and a medical crisis if everyone refused to take medication based on this cell line? Turn a blind eye to the abortion of a child which took place within living memory and benefit from that death? Or find a third option? Theoretically, the cell line could be replaced. But that is highly unlikely to happen, even if people campaign for it. The cells have already been used to develop many established treatments.

The dilemma may be faced by a parent of denying their child existing lifesaving help if they refuse all medication connected to HEK293 cells. And the problems don’t stop there. Historically, medicine has many murky areas, in dissection, and other fields. As a Christian medical researcher said to en: ‘I don’t support abortion … and I feel at peace with using the cell line in my research.’

Whatever the answer, the use of HEK293 appears to be a contentious issue among evangelicals.

en staff

Photograph: iStock.

Ten Questions: Josep Rossello


1 How did you become a Christian?

I was 20 years old when I had a supernatural encounter with God. Nobody had shared the gospel, neither had I read the Bible or a gospel tract; in fact, I did not know any Christian. It was God’s revelation that bought me into repentance and faith in Christ, followed by a voice leading me to visit an evangelical church in Alicante.

2 What lessons have you learnt since that you would want to pass on to a younger Christian version of yourself?

Not everyone who says Jesus, Jesus, is a follower of Jesus. Be slow to share your heart and vision, as many people will be a threat and try to stop you in all possible ways. However, don’t dismay: the Lord will be there, always. Trust and follow Him.

3 How would you describe your prayer life?

Like a paella (Valencian dish), it has a lot of things in the dish, but the main ingredient is Jesus. Prayer reflects where I am in my walk with Jesus.

4 Which two or three Christian books apart from the Bible have most influenced your faith?

The Contemporary Christian by John Stott. It was just amazing reading as a new Christian.

Institutes of Christian Religion by John Calvin. I drank it as if it was the best Italian espresso.

The Book of Common Prayer. It formed my spirituality and prayer life.

5 Who or what have been your biggest Christian influences?

That’s a hard question to answer, as various people influence me through my life. I would say Ricard Colom (founder of Ajuda Evangelica), as he discipled me, took me to my first mission trips, and invested in my faith. He was a friend and a mentor in my first years as a Christian.

6 What are the main challenges you believe Christians face today?

Holistic discipleship, not only Christian knowledge, but also a life-changing experience and a sense of purpose and destiny. It feels the church in UK and Europe are too comfortable within their culture and the spirit of the age.

7 What encourages and what discourages you?

The vision of God’s Kingdom encourages me, as well as discipleship and the church. It discourages me that there is too much talk, and too little reality and authenticity, also all the marketing strategies and programmes used by the churches.

8 What makes you laugh?

Yes, Prime Minister and Mr Bean hahahahaha

9 What would you want to say to the wider evangelical world?

Don’t ask what you should do to grow your church. Ask what is a disciple, what is it to be a disciple, and make disciples. We have become really good doing church members, but we are not so good making disciples.

10 Which Biblical person do you most look forward to meeting in glory and why?

Ezra. He made Israel’s sin as if it was his own. He led Israel into repentance and God’s people to a spiritual awakening. Also, Ezra 10:4 has been a constant verse in my life. Bishop Josep Rossello, who was born in Spain, has been pastor of Christ Church Exmouth in the Free Church of England since 2019.

Photograph: Travelling by ‘hoof-power’ in Miranda State, Venezuela

Keswick: Inside the convention’s ‘TARDIS-style’ new centre


It might sound like a cliché, but on this occasion it happens to be true.

Stepping inside the Keswick Convention’s Derwent Project really is like entering Doctor Who’s Tardis. Not only does it appear to be much bigger on the inside than it looks from the outside, but it is big – in fact, enormous. Indeed, the space seems to go on and on and on… To paraphrase the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, if you thought it was a long way to the local shops, think again…

No wonder the Convention’s Head of Operations, Simon Overend, has a face which seems to crinkle perpetually into a broad and infectious smile. He greets a small deputation from Evangelicals Now with warmth and generosity of time, despite being hugely busy in the run-up to this year’s Virtual Keswick Convention online.

Progress during lockdown

Even during lockdown ‘there has been progress,’ he says, speaking of the multi-million pound project which should secure the event’s future for another generation. ‘Contractors realised they could comply with Covid-19 guidelines and continue to work, so work has been done, which is good,’ he says. ‘The building has now been essentially gutted.’

By Summer 2021 it is hoped work on the ground floor of the landmark former Pencil Factory will be fully completed, and all the mechanical engineering and infrastructure work finished throughout the whole building. Some of the unfinished empty spaces on higher floors may also be used for children’s and young people’s work next year.

All on one site

A hired tent will accommodate the main adult meetings on the same site, so for the first time all ages will be in the same part of town. The three-storey Pencil Factory will accommodate not only children and youth activities, but new toilets, and a year-round facility for a wide range of Christian and other activities. ‘We want to be good stewards of that asset. It will be hired out all year round – school groups, walking groups and so on.’

‘At the moment we will retain the Skiddaw site as well, because it is well used,’ he says, referring to the existing location in Keswick where the Convention has historically met. ‘It provides accommodation, which is important for volunteers during the Convention and for church groups throughout the year. Meanwhile Cumbria Rivers has just taken a lease on the office space on the ground floor.’

Footing the bill

The overall cost of the Derwent Project is £10.5 million. Most has been funded thus far from supporters – ‘small amounts from lots of people’ – plus some larger donations. More recently the Convention has been approaching trusts to help as well. The fact that so many ordinary Keswick supporters have been donating has made trusts much more amenable to help top up the finances further.

There will be a café during the Convention each year – and there is a suggestion that lifts in the building could go up to the roof, so people could take their coffees and teas up there and enjoy the view.

Flooding

Keswick as a town is well known for its propensity towards flooding. The Derwent Project has been planned on the basis that flooding will remain a possibility. The floor level on the ground floor will be raised, and electrical wiring come down from the top of the building rather than the other way up. ‘It’s planned with flood-resilience rather than flood prevention,’ Mr Overend says. ‘The water has to go somewhere!’ Asked about disability access, he says: ‘We want it to be useable by everyone. There will be two lifts in.’

‘The overall vision for the centre is that it’s the home of the Convention, that it’s used for our growing year-round ministry here, and that it can be a resource for the Christian community not just in the north of England but the south of Scotland. Beyond that it can be used by others who wants to use it. It will pay for itself through hiring and donations. It needs to be self-sustaining and we believe it will be. Cumbria Tourism are saying it has potential for so many different uses.’

A blessing for all of Keswick

Another goal is to make the facility available for local and community groups to use, as the Convention wants to continue to be a source of benefit for the town.

David Sawday, Chief Operating Officer for the Convention, added: ‘We desire through the Derwent Project to build on our support and service to local churches. One way we want to do this is as a venue for church holidays, either through church groups using the Convention as a platform for their church holiday, or for Keswick Ministries to host and help facilitate holidays for groups of churches at other times of the year.’

The Keswick Convention has been meeting since 1875. In recent years it has enjoyed a renaissance, a newly-revitalised feel, and increasing attendance. Now it is evolving further for the future.

But some things never change. As we leave, the sunshine is giving way to low clouds, a light drizzle is settling in… It’s time to retreat to one of Keswick’s many coffee shops…

What is the Keswick Convention?

The Keswick Convention was established in 1875, and from the beginning its aim was ‘to help those wanting to know God better and to live godly Christian lives,’ its website says. ‘That remains true today. The event has developed over the years and is known for many other things as well – a commitment to mission, seeing Christians from different denominations working together, a continued emphasis on the exposition of scripture that is applied to people’s lives, year-round teaching and training opportunities and many Keswick Fellowship events around the country and indeed the world.’

The Derwent Project in a nutshell

1. To secure the future of the three-week summer Convention on an integrated site in the centre of the town of Keswick.
2. To establish a new centre of operations for Keswick Ministries’ team
3. To expand the scope of Keswick Ministries by providing a conference facility for a range of activities at other times of the year, including training programmes and Bible-teaching events.
4. To make the conference facility available to churches in the UK and beyond, particularly serving Cumbria and the North (including Scotland).

en staff

On pulling down statues


According to the online American edition of the Spectator, the famous statue of George Whitefield, which was the inspiration behind the Banner of Truth logo, is to be removed from its present locale because of Whitefield’s participation in the race-based slavery of his day.

The article does a credible job of seeking to understand Whitefield in his context without whitewashing his sin. Although one statement in the article, namely that Whitefield ‘was the Donald Trump of the 1740s, albeit with a slightly higher degree of biblical literacy’, seems quite ridiculous to this writer.

Now, it is readily understandable why a secular university kowtowing to cultural pressure would want to get rid of the statue of Whitefield, but the action raises important questions about how we as Christians remember the past. Some wise words of Eberhard Bethge, the friend and biographer of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, are of enormous help here:

‘Commemoration renders life human; forgetfulness makes it inhuman … even when remembrance carries grief and shame, it fills the future with perspectives. And the denial of the past furthers the affairs of death, precisely because it focuses exclusively on the present’.

Church history’s hall of sinners

We cannot pretend that the sins of our brothers and sisters from the past – sins that stir up grief and shame – did not happen. They did. Yes, Whitefield promoted and defended race-based slavery.

But John Wesley, who abominated this very sin and fought it, had a terrible marriage. He left his wife Molly and when she died, she was dead and buried three days before he even found out.

Oliver Cromwell killed my Irish forebears in a bloody campaign that helped perpetuate the myth of the Irish being sub-human.

John Calvin agreed to the execution of Michael Servetus for heretical views on the Trinity.

Martin Luther urged the use of violence against the Jews, and while it was Judaism as a religious system that he had in his sights, the Nazis used his words in the 1930s to promote their anti-Semitism. And ultimately Luther got the idea for destroying the German synagogues from Augustine, who believed force could be used to shut down the ecclesial dissent of the Donatists.

Peter played the hypocrite at Antioch. And we all know that David was a murderer, as was Moses. Once we start down the road of getting rid of all of the sinners in church history there will be no one left but Jesus – and pre-Fall Adam and Eve!

God’s perspective

Moreover, note this: God says of David that he is a man after his own heart (1 Sam. 13:14; Acts 13:22). And Moses served as a model for our Lord: a prophet like Moses (Deut. 18:15–19) was Jesus.

So, what gives? Does God wink at sin? Absolutely not. So, the situation is far more complex. Great saints can and do commit sins – even great sins – and yet they can still be models to imitate without us whitewashing their sins (see Heb. 13:7 and Heb. 11). We can honour them for their goodness and virtues without ignoring their faults and failings. We can remember the messiness and shame of aspects of the Christian past and allow ourselves to be grieved by the acts of men and women we also need to honour. Thus, we learn that the past is complex and messy – and they do things differently there.

Church historians are thus called to remember and seek to understand first of all the whys of what happened. To be sure, there is a place to make moral judgements, but it must be done with humility (Rom. 14:4) and with a catholic temper.

So, we can honour Whitefield for his God-centred evangelism and remarkable catholicity, while at the same time being grief-stricken and ashamed of his participation in the evils of slavery.

Michael Haykin

Michael Haykin is Professor of Church History and Biblical Spirituality at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Kentucky.

Photograph: BBC footage of the toppling of the statue of the 17th-century slave trader, Edward Colston.

Restoring the rightful place of repentance


THE FEASTS OF REPENTANCE:
From Luke-Acts to systematic and pastoral
theology
By Michael J. Ovey
IVP Apollos. 173 pages. £14.99
ISBN 978 1 783 598 960

Repentance is too often a missing topic in evangelicalism today. Mike Ovey wrote this book (almost finalised by the time of his tragic and unexpected death in 2017) out of a deep concern that repentance is ‘far too often ignored, minimalised or dismissed’ in our evangelism.

The gospel is more than simply the proclamation that Jesus is Lord (as proponents of the New Perspective(s) insist). The gospel call necessarily includes a clear call to genuine repentance. This is, therefore, a much-needed book for the church today.

Ovey examines repentance through a detailed study of Luke’s Gospel and Acts. In the first part of the work, he studies repentance in the context of the various feasts that Luke records in his Gospel. This is unexpected, but fruitful in elucidating the Biblical significance of what it means to repent and of who is called to repent. Ovey shows how the reader’s expectations are overturned as the supposedly righteous Pharisees, as well as the more obvious sinners, are called upon to repent. The fact that repentance is available at all to tax collectors and prostitutes, of all people, brings joy, though perplexity and opposition from the Pharisees.

As Luke turns in Acts to Paul’s preaching to Gentile audiences, we see again the same call to repentance, though now the emphasis is upon the sin of idolatry. Ovey shows how, in Paul’s preaching, this call can be extended even to those who are not in covenant with God and so have no covenant transgression of which to repent, for we are all God’s creatures and we sin by worshipping other gods. The false nature of the relationship which our idolatry has established creates a false sense of identity in the worshipper. For the idolator, repentance must involve a rejection of this false identity, as one comes into a new relationship with the true God. In a penetrating analysis, Ovey shows how idolatry continues to hold our postmodern world in its grip, despite that world’s apparent denial both of deities and of any absolute principles or ideals.

The relationship between repentance and saving faith is explored, to show that each requires the other. Emerging Church proponents who want to eliminate or distort the element of repentance in conversion are convincingly answered, as is Barth’s idiosyncratic understanding of repentance. The nature of hypocrisy, as seen particularly in the Pharisees, is examined in the light of the repentance that Christ requires.

As part of IVP’s New Studies in Biblical Theology series, this is more an academic than a popular work and so requires careful reading, and demands prayerful thought and reflection. Pastors and preachers will benefit from engaging with this incisive monograph.

Robert Strivens, Pastor, Bradford on Avon Baptist Church

Have we been singing ourselves to death?


There have been many complaints about the government’s insistence that we should not sing in church.

My youngest daughter is in one of the Cambridge college choirs, and it really isn’t the same hearing them do Evensong on Zoom. There’s nothing quite like choral harmony, or listening to the Gettys doing ‘O Church Arise’ at full volume on YouTube. But hearing my family screech and strain our way through a song with the online church service as the background on Sunday is not the most inspiring thing. I miss congregational singing with our church family.

Crowding out the word?

Yet, I do wonder sometimes if evangelicals today put too much emphasis on this. The fashion in many churches, both high and low, whether Anglican or not, seems to be to spend more time singing or listening to music than attending to God’s word read and preached. If the words of our songs and anthems are Scriptural, the damage may be mitigated, but not entirely avoided.

This was a problem identified during the Reformation by those who put together the English Prayer Book. Peter Martyr Vermigli, for example, one of the architects of the Prayer Book, was concerned that English choral traditions would undermine the ministry of the word and lead us back in a Roman direction: ‘Almost everywhere in the papal religion they think they have worshipped God sufficiently in the church when they have sung and shouted loud and long,’ he cautioned. ‘There are many priests and monks who think they deserve well of God because they have sung many psalms.’

Vermigli identified this vice as an issue to be addressed because ‘there should not be so much singing in church as to leave almost no time for preaching the word of God and holy doctrine’. And yet, he added: ‘We can see this happening everywhere in a way, for everything is so noisy with chanting and piping [or strumming and drumming?] that there is no time left for preaching. So it happens that people depart from church full of music

and harmony, yet they are fasting and starving for heavenly doctrine.’

I think there is a challenge for us today, as we think about the desire for singing. Vermigli was provocatively strong on this. In the early church, he said, they ‘used either very little singing or almost none at all. They saw the people’s weakness to be such that they paid more attention to the harmony than to the words. So today if we see Christians running to church as to the theatre, where they can be amused with rhythm and singing, in such a case we should abstain from something not necessary, rather than feed their pleasures with the destruction of their souls’ (De Musica et Carminibus, 1561).

Singing ourselves to death?

This is perhaps sage advice for churches which find themselves in a culture of entertainment. If people literally are amusing themselves to spiritual death, pushing out preaching by a fixation on ‘good music’; if what they are really interested in deep down is a good morning or evening out for a ‘performance’ or singalong at church (or chapel or cathedral) – then, rather than pandering to it and trying to imitate the world’s musical idioms, maybe we should stop singing in church altogether?

Has coronavirus done us a favour then, forcing us to reconsider what is most essential? Of course, there’s also the clear injunction in Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16 for us to speak to one another and to our own hearts by means of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. We mustn’t forget that. Music is a gift from God. But is there also a case for saying that we shouldn’t baptise the latest musical trends and hope to win a hearing for the gospel through good-quality Christian music in our meetings, but stop it altogether, to expose the sinfulness and deception at work in such desires, and point people to a better way? We need to be feeding our souls with the word, to the destruction of the flesh, rather than feeding our pleasures with music, to the destruction of our souls. Something to ponder while singing is banned!

Lee Gatiss

Lee Gatiss is the Director of Church Society and author of Light After Darkness: How the Reformers Regained, Retold, and Relied on the Gospel.

Photograph: iStock

Train your mind in Christ


BLACK BEREA
iTunes, Spotify or your favourite podcast app
http://www.blackberea.com

‘A Christian mind is not one that is trained to think only about Christian topics. It is a mind that has learned to think about everything from a Christian perspective.’

So begins every episode of the Black Berea podcast. It’s a great summary of what the very best Christian podcasts are all doing. Podcasts give us a chance to hear conversations between Christians bringing their faith to bear on a huge range of subjects, and as we listen, we also learn to think. Black Berea has tackled everything from relationships and friendships to evangelism in the workplace, Grenfell Tower, money, Kobe Bryant, mental health and knife crime in the last couple of years.

Black Berea is produced by a group of young black British Christians based in London who have a particular passion for speaking into their culture and demographic with the good news of Jesus – but don’t make the mistake of thinking that this podcast is only for that demographic. These Bereans who are committed to searching the Scriptures have plenty to teach the whole church. I’m white, middle-aged and live on a farm, but I’ve loved listening to their perspective on a whole range of issues.

Where to start?

There’s much more to the podcast than this, but I strongly recommend listening to the episodes about race, especially: Episode 1 ‘The Introduction’; Episode 3 ‘Race and the Gospel’; Episode 57 ‘Black Brit-ish?’; and Episode 62 ‘Racism and Riots’. It’s not always comfortable listening but it is important, perhaps especially if you’re not in a church with a diverse congregation.

Ros Clarke

Ros Clarke hosts the weekly Church Society podcast.

Benin: tech breakthrough in translation


A team of Wycliffe Bible Translators has developed a keyboard that will help people interact with the Bible in the Mbelime language.

The Mbelime language is a minority language spoken in West Africa by around 100,000 people. Mbelime speakers are largely monotheists, and interest in Christianity has been slowly rising over the last two decades. An estimated 10% of Mbelime speakers now attend a local church.

Johannes Merz, who together with his wife Sharon serves with Wycliffe in Benin, said: ‘In the past few years, smartphones have become an integral part of life for many people in Benin. Many people use them for the same purposes as others may use a computer. For Mbelime speakers, however, there has been a problem. How can you write in Mbelime on your smartphone when you don’t have all the letters and accents available? These people wanted to write messages to each other in their own language… but they were frustrated. Mbelime speakers kept asking: ‘When is there going to be a Mbelime keyboard for our phones?’ It was painful repeatedly saying we didn’t know. Imagine not being able to write your language on your phone!’

A new app

However, all that changed when Keyboard App Builder was released in May. Johannes downloaded the app and got to work. First came learning the software, then creating an Mbelime-specific keyboard and the Mbelime word list to add the predictive text feature. After that, the development tools packaged the keyboard into an app that installs it on Android smartphones. It is now available on Google Play and people can pass it on directly from phone to phone.

Thank you!

The feedback from Mbelime speakers has been really positive. One Mbelime translator wrote: ‘Thank you for all your efforts! I’m very happy with you. Together with you, I have faith that our Mbelime language will continue to advance.’ The President of the Association for the Promotion of the Bible in Mbelime (APBM) shared via a WhatsApp group: ‘Thank you, our partners the Merzes, for their total involvement in seeing our language progress.’

Sharon commented: ‘Mbelime speakers always feel they’re a step behind the rest of the country, and others tend to view them negatively, thinking they are backward and need to be civilised. Using Mbelime in relation to technological advances is thus key in promoting and valuing Mbelime. This, in turn, is crucial for motivating people to use translated Scripture.’

Johannes concluded: ‘As the translation team completes books of the Bible [in Mbelime], we’re preparing to publish them as Scripture apps. Such apps make it possible to listen to the Bible text and read it onscreen at the same time. They have proven popular in other languages. We’re looking forward to seeing the first Scripture app in the next year or two. The Mbelime keyboard will help people interact with these apps, such as doing text searches.’

The project to translate the Bible into Mbelime began in 2012. A number of books are being made ready for publication, including Mark, Luke, Acts and James.

James is scheduled to be published as an app later this year. The translation team are also currently working on John’s Gospel, which should be released in 2021.

Wycliffe

Why you must speak up


Abuse of power is a hot topic these days. And church leaders are able to misuse their authority just as much as anyone else. We believe ‘all have sinned and fall short…’.

In the congregational form of church government (see Matthew 18.15-20), the church meeting acts as the final court of appeal. The elders, or leaders, have a certain authority in the church (Heb. 13.17), but it is an authority subject to the word of God and to the church. Hence it is the gathered church which appoints elders and to whom they must answer if they go astray (1 Tim. 5.19, 20). So the church meeting provides a mechanism for checking and balancing the leadership’s power. It is, I suppose, similar to the House of Lords, which can return Parliamentary Bills to the Commons with the message to ‘think again’.

In a climate which is now extremely sensitive to the misuse of power, the church meeting needs to be healthy and strong – not simply an exercise in ‘rubber stamping’. Other forms of church government do have checks and balances, but congregationalism enables a church to self-correct and to do so speedily – which is a blessing. For good church

government therefore, members must be people who feel able to speak up and express their thoughts. This requires a loving atmosphere. We need churches in which people can voice different points of view (on non-essentials) and yet agree to disagree without recriminations.

What goes wrong?

Healthy discussion in the church meeting is often absent these days. Why is that?

First, it can arise from a good motive. Perhaps the church has known a period of blessing under the leadership – praise God – and there is a genuine desire on the part of members not to disturb that. But the trouble is that it can easily spill over into keeping quiet even when members know that things aren’t right.

Second, it can arise when members are simply a group of shy people and the leadership has never, gently but persistently, encouraged them to take responsibility and contribute to a church meeting. Maybe the leadership simply feel that if they don’t drive the meeting nothing will ever get done.

Third, silence reigns when members are too busy elsewhere, and just want to get meetings over with and get home.

Fourth, silence can arise through a mistaken view of spirituality which brings fear. To raise a question is not the same as being a grumbler. To raise a question is not to threaten the unity of the church. To raise a question is not to be disloyal to the leadership – it may actually come from a desire to help them.

Fifth, silence can prevail because of unhelpful church members who just love the opportunity to sound off belligerently at the leadership (much to everyone’s unhappiness). And so, sadly, anyone with questions fears being tarred with the same brush – troublemaker.

Sixth, of course, and most importantly, it can arise from the pride and ‘micro-management mindset’ of an eldership which feels they must control the church rather than nurture it. They are a leadership which needs to be seen to be ‘right’ all the time or else they think their authority is undermined. They find means to censor or manipulate what can and can’t be said at the meeting.

In all these ways we really have the church being silenced and that can turn into a low-level form of spiritual abuse. In such a situation ostracism is often the result of challenging anything.

The red box

Actually, the deafening silence robs a church. We learn through having our ideas or the way we do things challenged. Even secular companies have the sense to see this.

The Toyota car company in Japan, being concerned for continual improvement, painted a red box on the assembly line floor. It was a safe zone, where you were free to say what you felt needed saying without any comeback. Employees, especially new ones, were encouraged to stand in the box and make criticisms of what happened in the factory. This was a key part of Toyota’s success.

Is there any mechanism like that for your church? The members’ meeting ought to be something of a red box.

John Benton

John Benton is Director of Pastoral Support at The Pastor’s Academy, www.pastorsacademy.org

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